Mzuzu, Malawi, Africa, 29 March 2017: Optometry as a profession is very young in Malawi, emerging slowly over the last five years. Today spirits are high in Mzuzu as ten new optometrists graduate, having completed the Bachelor of Science optometry degree at the university. This brings the total of locally trained optometrists to 35 – a magic number not possible before the course existed prior to 2012, when the first five Malawian optometrists graduated.
The School of Optometry was established in 2008 by the Malawi School of Optometry Project, a partnership consisting of the Department of Health, Brien Holden Vision Institute, Sight Savers, Mzuzu University and the Malawi College of Health Sciences, to address the need for human resource development in the field of eye care in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Ninety percent of the Malawian population live in rural areas, with 55% estimated to be living below the poverty line,” said Professor Kovin Naidoo, CEO, Brien Holden Vision Institute. “This means that private eye care is out of reach for the majority of the population and yet a significant proportion of people in Malawi that are affected by vision impairment. The absence of optometrists compound this need and restricts eye care services to surgical and emergency management of eye diseases.”
“We know early detection and the appropriate treatment by the rising number of locally grown optometrists will increase the quality of life for millions of Malawians. Currently eye care services are not accessible in most rural areas due to a lack of systems, eye care personnel and affordable spectacles – but with each passing year we produce more qualified practitioners to change this underserved need. Today is a proud day and I congratulate all involved,” Professor Naidoo said.
Like many emerging nations, Malawi has a scarcity of trained professionals available to provide accessible care and this directly contributes to disadvantaged lives, affecting a loss of potential to the overall economy. This is particularly evident in refractive services which impact on an adult’s capacity to earn and a child’s capacity to learn.
To alleviate this problem in Malawi, the partners planned to increase the numbers of trained optometrists by developing a regional school of optometry with two tertiary institutions in Malawi, each training a separate level of optometric-skilled personnel. Mzuzu University was chosen as the institution to offer students a four year degree program for a qualification as an optometrist.
The partnership has also helped to support an Academic Vision Centre at Mzuzu Central Hospital, a state of the art training centre for Mzuzu University optometry students, which creates human-resource, educational and deployment solution in eye care for Southern Africa. Optometry Giving Sight has been a principle supporter of the emerging schools since the first graduation.
“We are delighted with the milestones being achieved in Malawi,” said Clive Miller, Global CEO of Optometry Giving Sight. “Our aim is to improve the quality of life of people who are needlessly blind or vision impaired simply because they do not have access to an eye exam and a pair of glasses. By supporting schools of optometry, we help provide the human resources necessary to achieve this aim. I am very proud of the students that have graduated and the new ones graduating today. They are now the pioneers of optometric care in Malawi and can offer patients eye care services they have never had before,” he said.
Samuel was one of the first five optometrists to graduate in 2012. “When I qualified it was like a dream come true. I want to pursue my PhD while at the same time give my services to my country. I encourage anyone who has a desire to serve humanity to study optometry, because it is a noble profession and for me, a calling,” he smiled.